Things fall apart – or are lost – or are simply intentionally left behind.
I’ve lost many items along the way, some through theft, others through carelessness, but the bulk of it all I happily gave away to someone in need. Traveling for a long time you shed things but you also somehow gain things. The trick is to carry just what you need. Your spinal column and aching shoulders sure appreciate it.
Among the things that have mysteriously vanished or I’ve had to let go: a laptop that was nothing but trouble from Day One; two cell phones; a beloved Swiss Army knife; items of clothing for all sorts of climates; shoulder bags and backpacks for day trips; and on and on. Some I’ve replaced. Some, such as the laptop, I still need to replace. And now, one of the few items that has been with me from the first day of this long journey – my trusted walking shoes – must be retired.
It’s been a good run for my New Balance MW955’s. They weren’t built for running, but I ran in them hundreds of times trying to catch some bus or train or boat or plane. Or just trying to catch up and keep up on some uphill trail or jagged mountain slope. In them I’ve sloshed across rivers and streams, their Gore-Tex technology effectively keeping my feet dry. For more than three years, they served me well on rocky trails and city streets. And they even showed their nimbleness on a few dance floors :). In rain or snow, from the beaches of Tayrona in Colombia, to the salt flats of Uyuni in Bolivia, to the high reaches of the Andes in Argentina, these shoes have seen it all. In a deep freeze or extreme heat, they’ve done their job with magnificent comfort. (Wow, do I sound like an advert or what? 🙂
Over desert sand and mountain snow; these shoes have covered some serious ground
But seriously, shoes, any season traveler will tell you, are probably the most important purchase you will make toward fulfilling your travel goals. If your shoes are uncomfortable, so will your trip, plain and simple. So it was important to me to have the proper shoes for a journey that would involved every conceivable type of terrain and weather condition. A shoe that would hold up over time to overuse and overexposure even to things one could not have imagined. Oil spill? Yeah, I saw that coming! Raw sewage all over the ground? Ah ha. Ice and snow on the desert sand? Very funny, Mother Nature!
I went to an REI store in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A., in anticipation of this journey.The store clerk said these shoes would stand up to any harsh environment and golly gee, they did. But nothing lasts forever. They’ve now started to crumble at the soles and comp apart at the seams. As I set out on a short hike recently in Lagos, Portugal, I felt a dampness at the bottom of my feet and at that point realized the shoes were disintegrating. Now they must go – or risk grave injury to my dear ol’ feet. We can’t have that, now, can we?
For those curious or with a deep interest in shoes, a bit more specifics about the walking shoes I chose, as described here on Amazon.com:
Leather and mesh
ABZORB provides a superior blend of cushioning and compression set features with Dupont Engage and Isoprene rubber for the ultimate ride
C-CAP is a compression-molded EVA for superior midsole cushioning and flexibility
ROLLBAR TPU posting system minimizes rear-foot movement that, when combined with TS2 system, achieves the ultimate in motion control
3/4 ROCK STOP plate utilizes a flexible protective layer that protects feet from rocks and shock, minimizing pressure, and dispersing shock energy
Now doesn’t all that sound badass?
A hole in my sole
This week I am off to a outdoor store to find a new pair of proper walking shoes. It won’t be easy – shopping for shoes outside of the United States has never been easy for me – because I have big feet, size 13’s to be exact. For years I had been squeezing my feet uncomfortably into size 12’s or even 11 and a halves depending on the cut, in denial that I have big feet. But in the REI store in Portland, the sales clerk was not shy about dishing out a huge dose of reality: “You are size 13,” she said. “Buy size 13 or your extended trip won’t last beyond the airport departure gate.” When I slipped on the shoes I was wowed by that new feeling of shoe comfort, after years of torturing my feet. Heck, I trip over them often enough, how could I possibly deny them?
Just last week here in Portugal, I was shopping for flip flops at the local surf shop where they had hundreds of them on display. But only one pair in my size. One pair! If I didn’t jump on them, I would be out of luck if another guy with oversize feet walked in to buy them. That’s been my challenge with shoes traveling abroad. Big American feet don’t get a break. And Europe isn’t half as bad as South America! I once tried to buy dress shoes in Chile for a special occasion and it became a shopping expedition that lasted weeks through several stores. I finally settled on the largest size one store had buried deep in the stock room – size 12’s – with the sales clerk assuring me that they would stretch after several wears. Yeah, right. After I squeezed my feet into them, not without discomfort, I was out of them before the evening was through, dancing in my socks at one point instead. Everywhere I went I was told there isn’t much of a demand for size 13’s in much of South America where much of the population is indigenous, small in stature, and have small feet. Even South Americans of European descent as a whole can’t touch size 13. Nevertheless, off we will go in Portugal to shop for new walking shoes. I can’t travel the world shoeless, can I? Hmmmm….
I can’t recall a time I ever allowed the attitude or incompetence of others to get under my skin during travel. I smile, even laugh for much of it. To lose my mind over nonsense only hurts me. On a daily basis I let a lot, and I mean a lot, slide. But some things I simply do not tolerate. Somebody trying to take advantage is one of them. Being a complete ass**** is another.
Some people exist simply to make other people miserable. They’re not happy with their own miserable lives if they’re not bringing somebody down. It’s who they are. That’s the energy they emit. Unfortunately, some of those people are in the hospitality industry and you have to wonder why. Doesn’t hospitality mean to be hospitable? To be kind? Helpful? Friendly? Accommodating?
I arrived on the island of Isabela, the largest island in the Galapagos archipelago, without a hotel reservation. That’s okay because many places such as in the Galapagos you aren’t necessarily expected to have one. They gladly, happily accept walk ups. And sometimes you can get good deals this way as hotels compete for your business. They have people with business cards and hotel brochures in hand waiting for arriving visitors at the boat dock, to make a pitch for their respective hotels.
On the ramp, I was approached by three people who tried to convince me to go with them to their hotel. But my hosts on Santa Cruz island, from where I had traveled, had recommended another place and I was headed there to check it out.
One hotel owner who was incredibly persistent ran after me while I was on the way and suggested that I at least look at her hotel, check out the room, and decide. She said I had to walk past her hotel anyway, so why not have a look. I agreed. I took a look. Not bad for $15 bucks a night: large room, private bath, Wi-Fi and a computer in the room I could also use, large bed, clean, quiet. The downside was it was a bit outside of town and away from the beach. I decided to go find the recommended Hotel Beto.
The Beto Hotel. Check(out) that attitude!
In the sweltering afternoon sun I walked to town, overtaken by dust clouds kicked up by vehicles on the dirt road. All of the roads in town are pretty much a mixture of dirt and sand. Trying to cast off my discomfort and saying “no, gracias” to more offers of a “good hotel” along the way, I continued on the road to Beto.
When I arrived I met the owner and operator. I asked if he had any rooms. He said the main hotel on the beach was full, but he could offer me a room across the street. He said it was basic accommodation, as he pointed toward the property. I looked across the road and saw a building that didn’t look to be in good shape. I asked Mr. Beto if I could see the room. He flat out refused.
“I’m not a prostitute,” he said, a bit angrily. “This is not a prostitution business. You either take it without seeing it or you don’t take it at all!”
He then stormed away behind the bar, muttering some other unintelligible things.
Okay, my first impression of Mr. Beto: total ass! My lasting impression of Mr. Beto: total ass! My opinion of him as a businessman in the Internet age: complete idiot.
People, listen up! If you plan to be in business, especially if it’s a hotel business, offhand rudeness doesn’t score you points. And in a matter of minutes, millions of people can know your hotel is probably not the place they want to risk their hard-earned vacation. If you are in the hospitality industry, be nice!
Nice piece of work
Of course no way was I about to give Mr. Beto any of my money after that little dramatic outburst. I simply went to the hotel next door, the Caleta Iguana Hotel, to see if they had a room available.
Painted in hot pink with a large black aquatic iguana on the side of the building, the Caleta Iguana was once known as La Casa Rosada – The Pink House. It’s managed by 20-something Felipe Teran, an affable surfer dude. He’s assisted by his 20-something Argentine girlfriend, a skinny blond named Natalia. Under their care, Caleta Iguana is surf camp party central. Happy hour every day from 5 to 7 pm. Caleta Iguana is notorious in the town for its party atmosphere. One hotel operator told me if you want to party all night, go to Caleta. Her hotel was more about relaxation.
Caleta Iguana is right on the beach, nicely decorated with fantastic murals. Hundreds of aquatic iguanas sun themselves on the hotel decks and surrounding area. They scurry as hotel guests walk by.
The hotel has Wi-Fi, one of the few places in town that do, a well-stocked bar, beach volleyball and lots of activities for guests, such as surfing lessons, snorkeling, bicycle rentals, laundry services.
When I walked in and asked about rooms, Felipe was courteous, and told me he had two rooms immediately available. He then, without me even having to ask, showed me the rooms. The first room was small and so steamy hot that I questioned how any human could last in there for more than five minutes. He said he could place two fans in that room to help cool it. The room also had no private bath. There were two shared baths I could use, he said. One upstairs and one downstairs. He said the room would be $10 a night. The other room upstairs was slightly larger, also shared bath, for $20. I took the $20 room because it had more windows and better ventilation. It also didn’t feel like a closet.
Reptiles on deck
I told Felipe I would stay a night, for sure, but very likely two nights. No problem, he said. Still showing himself friendly, he asked where was I from, and after more small talk, I asked about the laundry service. My clothes needed a wash. He said they did have laundry service and it would take two to three hours to get it back to me. The service cost $5. Cool. I brought my laundry down that night and placed it in front of the laundry room. Felipe said the woman who does the laundry would get to it first thing in the morning.
In the meantime, Natalia mentioned they were making dinner at a cost of $7.50, and that that price included dessert. But later Felipe said it was actually $10 for those who had dessert, a not-so-bad banana bread. I’ve made banana bread myself and mine is better J.
I ate with some fellow travelers, a couple from France, two Americans, and a mother and her two adult children from Belgium. We shared travel stories, went dancing next door, a Hotel Beto. But I had already decided I would not spend a dime there. Mr. Beto was playing the music and based on reactions, he was really sucking at it. I’m not sure he remembered me from earlier that day, but as I left he thanked me for coming. Now, Mr. Beto, that’s more like it! Didn’t hurt to be nice, did it?
The next morning I woke up and had to wear the same jeans and t-shirt from the previous night because I did not have my clothes. They were still in the hands of the laundry lady. Or so I thought. I went downstairs, peeked into the room and saw that my clothes were still sitting on the floor where I had left them – untouched. I saw the cleaning/laundry lady and asked about the clothes. She said she was the one who would do the laundry and I’d have every piece back in an hour. Cool. I can live in these jeans in the heat for an hour.
All the clothes I had with me, except the jeans I was wearing, were in the laundry pile. I waited an hour. Two hours. Three hours. No clothes. I asked Felipe and then Natalia about my clothes, and Felipe seemed to be handling some other crisis. Natalia said the laundry lady had already washed the clothes and hung them out in the sun to dry, but they were still wet. I asked if they didn’t have a dryer. She said yes, but she had no idea why Laundry Lady had chosen the sun over the dryer. Okay, but my board shorts are in that pile, they are 100% fast-drying polyester, no need to dry those in a dryer or the sun because they dry quickly just wearing them. And besides, I was planning to jump in the ocean in them anyway. Natalia shrugged, puzzled.
If anyone should have an attitude on this island, it's me! 🙂
So the hours passed as I sat in the common area of the hotel, waiting. The laundry lady had simply vanished with my clothes. More than three hours later, pretty much all the hotel guests and Felipe and Natalia, had gone off to do fun stuff: snorkeling, surfing, or just swimming in the ocean. I spent four hours looking for Laundry Lady. No one knew where she was. I began to grow frustrated as my whole day was wasted sitting in the hotel . Then, after more than five hours, just when I had given up getting my clothes returned for the day, I looked across the road and spotted Laundry Lady sitting and casually chatting with another woman, as if nothing. When she saw me come outside she displayed that look that said “oops, I forgot to do something!” Before I got any words out she said “I’ll go get it now.”
She returned with a bigger pile of laundry than I had given her. My clothes were mixed with some other guy’s clothes, underwear and all.
“Sorry, is this yours?” she said, as she held up a pair of men’s underwear, asking me to identify them. Laundry Lady held up more underwear asking the same question: “How about this one? Is it yours?
Are you kidding me?! Oh, the indignity!
So needless to say I was not happy about having spent my entire day in the hotel instead of sightseeing or doing something more worthwhile. I hadn’t come this far to sit in a hotel then play a game of Whose Underwear Is It Anyway?”
I tried to salvage some of the day by walking around town and the beach, taking pictures. That’s when Natalia emerged from the ocean waving at me. She approached and asked about my clothes. I told her I had just gotten them. She apologized and said she would handle the laundry next time. Meanwhile, Felipe also emerged from the ocean, his surfboard under his arm. “Well, back to the hotel to work,” Natalia said, and they took off. I stayed on the beach.
That evening I returned to the hotel after an hour or so shooting pictures. And that’s when the crap hit the fan.
Felipe informed me that my room was now $25 instead of $20. He said that’s what the room was actually worth. He said while I was away from the hotel there were several inquiries for a room and that’s the rate he offered the people seeking a room. He said he had offered my room to others operating under the notion I would be checking out that day. But I said one, likely two nights, and since I had no clothes the decision was made for me to stay two nights, I told him. He insisted on $25. Then he said he had no idea Laundry Lady had disappeared with my clothes and that because of her actions – the actions of a hotel staffer – I had been forced to spend the day in the hotel. He then eased up and said okay, he’d take the $20. Then, instead of offering so much as a discount for my laundry troubles, he said I owed him $5 for the laundry. Talk about lack of business sense or maybe he was just showing how he could care less about his guests. I handed him the $5 and went up to the room. Then the more I thought about what had just occurred the more angry I got. As I mentioned before, I let a lot of things slide. One thing I had let slide was the fact the bed had ants and I spent the night swatting them and trying to sleep through them crawling on me. I hadn’t even bothered to mention it to him. It was then I said, okay, enough, I’m out of here.
Went downstairs, handed Felipe the key and left that night. Strike two in the hotel department. I walked across the street to the Hotel Volcan and checked in there.
That night I handed Felipe the key to the room, shared my thoughts about his hotel, and walked across the street to the Volcano Hotel, where I met Pablo Gordillo and his wife, owners and operators.
She showed me the room without hesitation, and he offered ideas for tours. He said no pressure, just something to think about. They provided service with a smile, were very attentive and made me feel welcome. They addressed all hotel guests by name and were extremely helpful. They would ask if all’s well with the room and if there was anything they could do to make my stay more enjoyable to not hesitate to ask. If you ever come to Isabela in the Galapagos, this is the hotel you want. The third try turned out to be the charm. The Gordillos know a thing or two about hospitality and treating their guests with respect. And whatever price they quoted that’s what they stuck to. The bottom line, it’s your money. Don’t just throw it away. You should expect good treatment for it and good service for it.